Pixels Ensemble: Remembrance

Pixels Ensemble: Remembrance

Great Hall, Hope University Campus, Liverpool
13th November 2017
Mark Simpson – clarinet
Thelma Handy – violin
Jonathon Aasgaard – cello
Simone Robello -percussion
Ian Buckle – piano

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

On a miserably inclement night, with most of the buses not running, the turn out for this Remembrance event was as good as could be expected. The programme in truth was not a light-hearted affair but there was a fair cross section of old and young represented in the audience, looking forward to the players coming onto the Great Hall floor; there was no stage. Fortunately the acoustics were good.

To start the evening the Pixels Ensemble played Part Two of Ian Percy’s Palindrome Triptychs, a world premiere work commissioned for the ensemble by composer Ian Percy. Entitled (… ultima thule…), which roughly translates as beyond the confines of the known world. it alludes to Messiean’s Quartet for the End of Time. This nine minutes was a doleful, abrasive and staccato coming together of discordant sounds, the clarinet particularly carnage laden and the violin stricken, as the themes turned on themselves in palindromatic fashion.

The second work by Toru Takemitsu, Rain Tree Sketch (in memoriam Olivier Messiaen) for solo piano was an introverted impressionistic piece, dripping timeless notes like autumn leaves. That could not be said of Woodpecker, a turn of the 21st century work composed by Louis Andriessen, for solo percussion. Robello was alive to the jagged stop start frantic drilling of the music, getting the full spectrum of colour out of her wooden marimba, blocks, sticks and tubes in a dazzling performance of energy and dexterity.

The first session ended with George Lentz’s Nguurraa. Having moved from Belgium to Sydney, Australia, he based this composition on the transcendental and spiritual otherworld of the aboriginal mystery tradition. The clarinet’s deep register sounded like a westernised didgeridoo while the piano, cello and violin complemented the slow contemplative gongs of the percussionist, producing almost minimalist sounds from a gravity free universe interspersed with blasts of unannounced cosmic noise.

After the break, one work, Olivier Messiean’s Quartet for the End of Time. Sadly, audience fatigue, or the short attention span of some of the younger members of the crowd, meant they did not survive for the performance of this profoundly moving 50 minutes, eight section work, composed in Gorlitz German prisoner of war camp in World War II. Stretching his catholic faith and spirit to its limit it is scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, as these were the only instruments available for fellow camp inmates to perform it on it’s premier in 1941.

The First Section, Crystal Liturgy opens to agonised shrieks from Simpson’s clarinet and Buckle’s piano crescendo equally portents doom. Vocalise, for the Angel announcing the end of time, has an apocalyptic build up to meltdown, before the violin and cello try to introduce a sense of normality, but an intense feeling of wasting away and sorrow is in the music too.

Abyss of the Birds has a plangent clarinet showing a great range of breath control and texture but the wheeling sounds are bleak and without hope. The jazz inflected Interlude that follows seems strangely out of place.

Praise to the Eternity of Jesus brings some fretful piano accompaniment to Aasgaard’s soulful cello as the notes rise and fall into obscurity. Dance of Fury, for the seven trumpets, does just that. It’s an all-in presaging finality, but there is a rapprochement of sorts before an orgiastic animalistic climax; the end of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring or parts of his own Turangalila Symphony came to mind.

The penultimate section is scored for Tangle of Rainbows for the Angel who announces the end of time. Miasmal collective interplay between the instruments, colours flying everywhere; white noise out of black. Finally in Praise to the Immortality of Jesus, a transcendental heart-stopping emotional outpouring from Handy and Aasgaard drifts away to nothingness.

Once heard, this extraordinary piece composed under the most exacting of conditions, can never be forgotten. Tonight’s players, all well renowned soloists of Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra fame, paid more than due diligence to Messiaen’s creation. Then all five members of Pixels took a well deserved ovation to end a complex and fascinating night out.

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